Parvo in dogs and cats: all you need to know about prevention and treatment

You’ve heard the name and you know it’s something you really don’t want your pets to get, but what exactly is parvo? And are all diagnosed cases an immediate death sentence? It’s not a black and white answer. Read on for all you need to know about the prevention and treatment of canine and feline parvovirus.

What is parvo?

The virus that causes parvo in cats (feline panleukopenia) and dogs (canine parvovirus) is related, and hence both pets will present similar symptoms. Both are highly contagious diseases, and if not treated correctly, can be fatal.

In dogs, the virus can present itself in the intestines or less commonly, the heart. Certain breeds are also more at risk: Rottweilers, Pit Bulls, Labrador Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds are particularly susceptible.

In cats, the virus attacks the dividing blood cells in the body, leaving the body with a weakened immune system. The cells in the intestinal tract, bone marrow and the skin are prime targets – the virus basically leaves the body without a defence system.

Puppies and kittens are especially at risk as their immune systems are still developing.

How can your dog or cat contract parvo?

One of the reasons parvo is spread so rapidly is because the virus can live in the environment for lengthy periods of time (two months indoors and up to a year in ground soil). It is spread through direct or indirect contact through faeces and bodily fluid. We all know how much our dogs love sniffing each other’s butts, or even eating (!) dog poo – voila, the virus spreads.  Also, if you walk through infected faeces, and then walk into the house, you have unknowingly brought the virus into your pet’s environment.

Symptoms of parvo in dogs and cats

The symptoms are largely similar in both cats and dogs.

Cats will also present with anaemia, scruffy fur and neurological symptoms.

What to do if you suspect your dog or cat has parvo

A trip to your veterinarian is imperative.  If not, it is highly likely your pet will succumb to the disease. Once at the vet, you will need to give a detailed history (including whether he has been vaccinated or not) and any background about where your pet might have contracted the virus.  He will then examine the animal thoroughly and perform various tests. There is even a specific test for parvo in faeces.

Treatment of parvo in dogs and cats

Unfortunately, there is no cure for parvo. If your animal is diagnosed, the treatment is usually isolation and hospitalization, where they are treated symptomatically. According to petmd.com, the survival rate in dogs is approximately 70% when treated in hospital. The prognosis is lower in puppies.   

Even when they are recovered, they will still have a weakened immune system so it is important to maintain good health through diet and home care.

You will need to clean all areas where your pets live thoroughly using household bleach, as this is the one domestic product that has been known to destroy the virus. This includes deep cleaning all bedding, toys and litter boxes.  This is to prevent re-contamination or spreading the virus to other pets in the house.

How to prevent your pets from contracting parvo

You’ve heard it before; don’t wait, vaccinate! Parvo can be prevented through vaccination. That is why it is important to get your puppies and kittens vaccinated at six weeks old. Ask your vet about the correct vaccination protocol for your breed.

Don’t let puppies socialize with unknown / unvaccinated dogs for six months. Rather socialize them under strict supervision with dogs that are known to be vaccinated. 

Dealing with a sick animal due to parvo can be a very scary. But understanding the disease and fast action will go a long way to a full recovery.

If you have any questions or concerns with regards to your pets, it is advisable to consult a registered veterinarian. This article is intended as an educational tool and should not be used to diagnose or treat a sick animal.

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